On 5 December 2019, the Attorney-General introduced the Federal Circuit Court and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019 (“the Bill”) to reform the family law court system.
Proposed Reforms for Family Law System
The Bill proposes a number of reforms to the family law court system. These reforms include:
- establishing a single point of entry for federal family law matters; and
- developing a common rules, forms, practices and procedures.1
Single Point of Entry
The Federal Circuit Court of Australia (“FCC”) and the Family Court of Australia (“FCA”) have jurisdiction to hear and decide family law matters.2 The Bill proposes to merge the FCC and FCA into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (“FCFC”).3 The FCFC will comprise of two divisions, namely:
- FCFC (Division 1) (similar to the Family Court of Australia); and
- FCFC (Division 2) (similar of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia).4
All federal family law applications will be filed in the FCFC (Division 2) and then transferred to FCFC (Division 1) as appropriate. This means that there will be a single point of entry for all federal family law matters.
The Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia are each governed by a different set of rules.
The Bill (and associated Bills) proposes a common set of rules, as well as procedures, practices and approaches to case management.5
The Attorney-General hopes that the proposed changes “will reduce the costs and delays that thousands of Australian families experience as a result of a split federal family law court system. This legislative package will create greater efficiencies in the federal family law court system and, in turn, assist families navigating the court system during what can be some of the most difficult and distressing times of their lives.”6
Stakeholders not so sure
The Bill has been opposed by many stakeholders who have argued that greater resourcing, rather than structural reform, is required to address the issues facing the family law system.7
Stakeholders – including the Law Council of Australia, Women’s Legal Services Australia, Community Legal Centres Australia and NATSILS – signed an open letter to the Attorney-General expressing concern about the proposed merger. Read the open letter here.
On 17 February 2021, the Bill was passed in the Senate (see Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Act 2021).
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1 Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department, Structural reform of the federal courts (no date) <https://www.ag.gov.au/legal-system/courts/structural-reform-federal-courts>
2 Note that the Protocol for the division of work between the FCA and the FCC specifies the matters which are ordinarily filed and/or heard in the Family Court of Australia.
3 Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, 5 December 2019, 7054 <https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/genpdf/chamber/hansardr/6133541f-9c3b-4d52-a689-67b034ad1f12/0022/hansard_frag.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf>
4 Above n 1.
5 Above n 3.
6 Above n 3.
7 Claire Petrie, “Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019 [and] Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019” (January 2021) 42 Bills Digest.